Have the Coens gone off the boil? There are some strange opinions flying around about their latest feature, 1950s movie studio spoof ‘Hail, Caesar!’
Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is a cast-iron movie megastar in the mold of Clark Gable and Cary Grant, and he finds himself kidnapped by a mystery group while filming Capitol Studios’ latest historic epic, centred around the crucifixion of Jesus.
This causes a major PR problem for Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), resident ‘fixer’ at Capitol, who spends his days smoothing over all the tricky wrinkles lying behind his studio’s glamorous movies. Top billed actress pregnant without a husband? No trouble. Directors disappearing in suspicious circumstances? Just another day’s work.
So how will he rectify this situation before Hail Caesar’s production *gasp* stalls??
It is very hard to tell what is sarcastic cynicism and what is pure story in this movie. In many ways, there are no climaxes, no real twists or turns to speak of, and no actual danger present in the plot.
The trailers paint a very different picture; one in which a movie star ‘A Team’ assembles to find Baird Whitlock and save the studio – it’s a strange decision, as this bears no relation to what’s on the screen.
This ‘A Team’, featuring stellar names like Scarlett Johansson, Channing Tatum, Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton and… Christophe Lambert?? Is merely the pretty backdrop and context for Eddie Mannix’s tale as a beleaguered family man just trying to do his job and hold everything and everyone together.
It all begs the question: what were the Coens trying to achieve? I wondered whether they were presenting a mocking reflection of what ‘studio execs’ might consider themselves to be – unsung heroes shepherding wayward, foolish talents to create something of value; rather than the more money-focussed, ruthless individuals actual behind-the-scenes stories tend to suggest.
Or is it simply a fond tip-of-the-cap to a bygone era of megastars, fake public images, and lavish yet endearingly twee productions like Singin’ in the Rain?
Channing Tatum ultimately disappointed me in his turn as a Gene Kelly/Frank Sinatra/Fred Astaire hybrid – not because of his tap dancing, which is authentic & impressive, but because he couldn’t quite communicate the neon-bright, searing, professional joy 50s movie stars had in spades.
Perhaps the most enjoyable highlight was Alden Ehrenreich, relatively new to cinemagoers, as an earnest & somewhat naive Western star whose popularity with audiences pushes him into uncomfortable new territory. He was a big half of the funniest scene in the movie, more or less acting out the famous ‘and I can’t stand him!’ scene from Singin’ in the Rain with Ralph Fiennes.
It’s worth watching as long as you don’t expect the plot to drive you along. It’s easiest to enjoy as a string of well constructed scenes with a good dash of humour, then digest the meaning (or lack thereof – who knows!) afterwards.
I’m still not sure what the goal was, but I think I enjoyed the ride.